·         Thursday, 29 November 2007

The Annual, Let’s Let-Friends-&-Family-Poke-Fun-at-Us Holiday Letter

Yep it is that time of year again!  I happen to enjoy receiving the annual holiday letters people send out.  The kind of letter that tells all the wonderful, delightful things that happened during the past year and usually never mentions illness or sad event or children gone wild, etc. 


To me, the focus of the annual holiday letter is much like what happens when when goes through the experience of child birth.  When you are looking down at the blessed child, the memories of those long hours of excruciating labor disappear from memory and all you see is the wonderful baby, the joy of your life.  The memory of labor softens and may even disappear, otherwise we would never have the courage to give birth again. 


So, I look forward to reading about all the pleasures and joys people lovingly fill their annual holiday letter with.


What really sadden me are those greeting cards that arrive without even one line of text. Impersonal or otherwise, I want to hear about the lives of those around me.


I also want to share the life I have too.  Poke fun if you will.


I find life so amazing, so rewarding.  Even the most mundane things hold my interest and motivate me.  The act of washing the dishes is pleasurable and gives me promise of other gentle pleasures.  The warm water and the beautiful soapy bubbles, the thoughts of friends and family sharing a meal on the plates…washing dishes is a time of reverie.


So, here’s to the annual holiday letter…and many more!


·         Wednesday

Eight Things…


·         Sunday

Up the Mountain We Go!

My anxiety level was high as we began the trip home.  Of course climbing mountains seems better than he feel of caroming down, down, down around curves and weaving through traffic and reading the signs about brake lanes and steep grades.


So I was armed with knitting needles and had the radio tuned into NPR.  I focused on the handwork and the word pictures spilling out of the radio.  I mentally prayed, affirming that God guards, guides and governs us.


No sweaty palms this trip.


·         Saturday

Chinese Food, Friends, Monopoly and the Birthday Girl Goes Double Digit


·         Friday

Googlewacking, Guitar Heroes, Gingerbread Houses and Samores


·         Thursday, 22 November 2007 - Thanksgiving Day!

Catch, Clue


·         Wednesday, 21 November 2007

This workday ended early.  Thank goodness.  The day before a holiday, I become as unfocused as any kid you could name.  I am ready to be on vacation, ready to relax.


Even during the many years I was really rater Type-A, ticking thigs efficiently off my personal checklist, I would feel the spirit of the upcoming holiday penetrating my subconscious.  My strategy for coping with it?  Have a rather mindless task to accomplish – what I often call “factory work”. 


So on this Wednesday before my favorite holiday of the year, I sat folding a stack of 300 annual appeal letters and stuffing them into envelopes.  By noon the task was accomplished and the letters were on their way to donors.


My industriousness (or my jubilant attitude) did not go unnoticed.  By 1 PM, the Executive Director decided to free the hounds!  We could leave for the holiday weekend.


By 2PM my cowboy spouse, Miss Zia, and I were headed south enroute to Phoenix.  The trip was happily uneventful, that is except for the ast 114 miles.


I had never traveled down the mountain from Flagstaff to Phoenix so I was unprepared for the curvy, mountain road.  I also thought this section of the trip was only about 60 miles.  At the end of a long day on the road, my nerves are shot and my coping skills stretched out of shape.  My natural aversion to such roads was compounded by darkness, holiday traffic, lots of scary signage (those alarming yellow signs sowing a truck at a precarious angle, hurtling down the 6% grade always make my palms sweat!)


I try not to gasp, since those sounds tend to disturb the driver, so I sublimate by singing or humming tuneless songs.  It is better if the radio plays programs I can concentrate on, but somehow adio stations in mountainous areas are useless.  So I fretted and hummed, punched my pillow and tried hard not to open the passenger door and leap out into the darkness for some relief. 


We arrived safely at our daughter’s happy home.  I was grateful to get out of the car and to receive their welcome hugs. 


Maybe we could take the southern route (through Tucson) on the return trip!  Like Scarlett O’Hara, I opt to think about that tomorrow.


·         Sunday, 18 November 2007

Our bright red crock-pot is hard at work making a savory soup for our Sunday lunch.  My ever industrious and thoughtful spouse chopped up all the ingredients as I washed up the breakfast dishes.  (Yes, Mark prepared French Toast for breakfast).  Now I am catching up on e-mail and correspondence while the local NPR station keeps me apprised of world events.  Miss Zia snoozes on her palette by my desk, happily tired from our long morning wanderings in the bright brisk New Mexico day.  Her legs occasionally quiver as she chases rabbits in her dream world.


I am in a state of anticipation as I tap away on these keys.  Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday is upon us and I am eager to prepare for our trip.  We will celebrate Thanksgiving and or granddaughter’s birthday down in Phoenix and we will kick off the Christmas season with some family traditions. 


I am also anticipating the joys of pulling out the Christmas boxes that we brought with us for our year in Santa Fe.  Al our holiday treasures have been packed up for several years; it has been at least three Christmases since we have pulled Christmas out of these boxes.  It will be a pleasure to see the heirlooms: the heartfelt creations our children presented us with over the years…ahhhh yes.  My afternoon will be filled with quiet pleasures. 


I love these quiet days when we can just relish the simple pleasures of life.  I love the sense of home we have and the gentle rhythms of the day. 


Like Dorothy (Re: Wizard of Oz) says; “There’s no place like home.” And even more important is the second part of the lesson: that you never have to go looking for it. 


Mark and I are home and there is no place I would rather be.


·         Friday, 16 November 2007

Ariel views of Kerch

This photo shows where our Kerch-home, our Peace Cops site, was (is).  On the left is the eastern-most tip of Crimea, the Kerch Straits and on the right, Russia and their sea ports.  Kerch was once a huge port and a closed military city, but most port activity these days has reverted to Russia.


Reports on the recent storms say, dying dolphins are washing up on the beaches…the wildlife refuges for endangered species in Crimea are suffering…30,000 birds are drowning in oil spills from the negligence of the Russian sailors.


This photo shows the actual seaside city of Kerch – the large greenish area at the lower part of the photo is where the Greek settlers established the Bosphoran kingdom.  Our cozy flat looked out on the Mitridates Mount there. 


What an experience it was to live in Kerch, by the sea.  How sad it is to know that heinous storms and neglect by the Russians are creating such havoc there.


How sad to know most of the world will do nothing to help them through the ecological catastrophe that they are faced with.


·         Thursday 15 November 2007

My favorite holiday will be almost history by this time next week.  Thanksgiving feasts will be behind us by then.  We may be rolling on the floor (a family tradition) and maybe belching and swearing-off certain foods and over eating.


Yes, pumpkin pies and turkey are a delight, but for me, it is the family and friends that make the day.  Even when we have been far from family and friends, I find myself looking forward to the Thanksgiving meal.  It is a time when we can really speak our mind…say what we think about our loved-ones….and what is it that I think?  Well, I am soooo grateful for the wonderful people in my life that I fairly bust…I am at a loss for words to describe them or to thank them for being part of the tapestry of my life.


Has anyone been so blessed?


Can you guess that this is my FAVORITE holiday? 


Even in our two Thanksgivings in Ukraine (where Thanksgiving is NOT part of the culture) I was excited and happy to celebrate.  I would open my home to other Peace Corps Volunteers, but (sadly) since we were on the eastern-most tip of Crimea and far from PC-central, we had no American guests.  One of our two turkey-days in Ukraine involved an Avian-flu evacuation (hilarious actually!) to Kiev for two weeks.


This year we are in the wild, American West of dusty, dry northern New Mexico.  We are among strangers (though we have our AmeriCorps*VISTA family and co-workers around us.)  I will organize a Christmas open-house, but Thanksgiving this year will be shared with our daughter and her family in Phoenix.  What can be better? 


My favorite holiday with my wonderful daughter and her family - together, enjoying the most American of days together.  Next week…


Life is just so good….


·         Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Day Two on the Job…

Well – my second day on the job and I must report disturbing news: my delightful “boss” has decided to retire – next month!


When the bureaucracy is flawed, we lose good people.


But, when bitterness, anger, and pain dominate…it is time for good people to seek peace.


Life should not be about toxins and anger… life is too short for that.  When we are in pain, it is probably time to move on…we should find ways to live with joy and delight….with a sense of abundance.


I will miss this remarkable (Rena) woman…I arrived a bit too late I guess…


·         Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Day One on my New Job!

My feelings are mixed.  My summer and fall days since leaving Ukraine have been rather shapeless.  I’ve spent much time accommodating events and people rather than really pursuing my own passions. 


I have also spent much time trying to simply stay in the moment; this in response to the sense of having little control over my days.   But actually, living in the moment enhances experiences so it is a good lesson to learn.  It is, actually a lesson that one must continue to consciously practice.  I am not sure one ever learns it once and for all.


Today marks my first day on the job.  It has been such a long time since I kept official office hours.  I am apprehensive. 


In my Air Force days, I generally reported in at 7 AM.  That seems inconceivable to me now.  My work consumed me.  I owned it and took pleasure in all the minutia and details. 


And at the end of the engaging duty day, I often lingered a bit, trying to make the transition to my evening adventures (taking classes: AA, BS and finally the MA).  My life then was also filled with joys and demands of home, family and friends.  I traveled frequently both professionally and personally and successfully juggled soooo many balls….


How did I do it?


Can I do it again? 


Do I want to do it again? 


Will I soon become immersed in the demands, challenges and opportunities of my project or have I changed so much in recent years?


Stay tuned for details…


·         Monday, 12 November 2007

My mind and my heart are in Kerch today.  Our Peace Corps hometown is being battered by unexpected, extremely violent wind storms. News reports say at least ten Russian ships have been destroyed in the past 24-hours.  Twenty foot (yes 20 foot!) high waves pummel the shores.  Huge trees fall and litter the streets.  Electricity and heat are off in most parts of the city.  A Russian tanker has spilled tons of oil into the sea and there is already talk of the dire impact this will have on the environment.

Visit this NY Times site for a slideshow:



E-Mail and the Internet allow us to follow events almost as they happen.  My Ukrainian friends from our English Club responded to my e-mails with local details and Google Alerts sends me frequent updates. 


One of our friends formerly worked in the port facilities.  He observed that many of the Russian ships are crewed with young, inexperienced sailors and the ships themselves are aging and in need of repairs.  He commented that it is consistent with Russian attitudes about fate to rely on a little luck in any endeavor.  It is also likely that damage is understated.  This is another characteristic locals joke about – official information is generally presented in a positive or understated manner.  (Remember Chernobyl, among other tragedies!)


“‘Some 30,000 birds have died and it's not possible to count how many fish. The damages are so great that it's hard to assess. It can be equated with an ecological catastrophe,’ said Alexander Tkachev, the governor of the Krasnodar region, according to the Interfax news agency.”  That’s on the Russian side of the Strait.  No figures posted yet from the Ukrainian side of the sea.


I imagine being in our cozy, one-room Soviet-era flat just one block from the Black Sea.  I imagine the wild winds thrashing the ancient trees in the seaside park. 


·         Sunday, 11 November 2007 – VETERANS DAY

I always think of my Father on this day.  Though I myself am a veteran (21 years of active duty Air Force plus 3 more as a JROTC instructor), it is my Father’s military commitments and contributions that take center stage for me.


As we drive across town to attend the local Veteran’s Day ceremonies I remember how my Father always took pride in arranging for the events of the day.  He was behind the scenes, making sure uniforms were worn properly and that flag protocols were followed.  He orchestrated the local events like a movie director.


Dad served in WWII.  He left behind a wife and three children to serve his country and fight on foreign soil in France and Germany.  He almost went to the Pacific too, but the war thankfully ended just before he was supposed to ship out.  While he was gone, he wrote to my Mother 3 times each day to insure she would hear from him at least once each day.  Carving out moments to pen letters during wartime is a challenge.  Many of the letters are scrawled on tiny scraps of paper.  The letters tell of what he saw and experienced and thought and dreamed…no complaining, not just sloppy rhetoric, but thoughtful words to his loved ones at home.  (These letters, a little piece of history and family love, are the legacy my Father left for grateful me…)


After the war, Da continued to be a part of things military.  He was instrumental in creating the Army National Guard unit in my small Iowa hometown.  He mentored young men and women not always consciously, but rather simply how he lived his life.  His military connections, that brotherhood (sisterhood) nurtured him in profound ways.


Anyone who serves, almost anyone, comes away changed.  Serving offers so many character developing opportunities.  In many cases, one comes away with a larger sense of community and family.


The local Veteran’s Day events are well attended.  There is a sense of community, family, as we stand in the bright New Mexico Fall sunlight and reflect on how one’s service changes lives; our own and those around us.  The speaker (a young father recently returned from his second tour in Iraq) says we are family – we are brothers and sisters in this bond. 


I silently observe soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines exchange embraces and share laughter.  There is mutual respect and no need for words.


We listen to the echoes of “Taps” and a 21-gun salute.  We watch the fly-by, consider the words each speaker chooses to share, and we salute the flag that is the symbol of our service.  We remember those who died in service to our country and we thank those around us for daring to serve.


“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give,” said Winston Churchill.  He is right. 


When we serve something larger tan ourselves, we make a life.  When we serve, we honor life.


·         Saturday, 9 November 2007

 In life you can never be too kind or too fair; everyone you meet is carrying a heavy load. When you go through your day expressing kindness and courtesy to all you meet, you leave behind a feeling of warmth and good cheer, and you help alleviate the burdens everyone is struggling with.

- Brian Tracy, author, motivational speaker



·         Friday, 9 November 2007

I catch up on E-Mail and intermittently play with Miss Zia.  My loyal pound-puppy is glad I am home from my business trip.  She nestles on her special quilt next to my desk.  As I type, she rests her muzzle on the toe of my boot.  When I glance at her, she returns my look with soulful honey-colored eyes that somehow seem sad even when her tail thumps gently on the floor.  She stays close by my side when I stray away from my desk.


She communicates so much without ever saying a word.


·         Thursday, 8 November 2007

Sworn in: I’m a Soldier in the “War on Poverty” Now!

We stand as a group; right hands held up, palms facing forward and repeat the solemn oath:


“I, {insert name here}, do solemnly swear, (or affirm), that

 I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States

 against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear

 true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation

 freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion;

 and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the

 office on which I am about to enter. So help me God."


 (Note that the last sentence is not required to be said if the speaker has a personal or moral objection)


This is the same oath I respectfully repeated when I enlisted in the US Air Force and when I re-enlisted.  It is the same oath sworn (or affirmed) by Peace Corps Volunteers too.


Saying the oath demands reverence and respect.  I wish there had been a bit more ceremony involved in this small moment.


Certificates and lapel pins are handed out.  Each of us receives a grey polo-shirt with a VISTA emblem on it.  We each receive a nice tote bag to carry away our trappings and our study materials.


There is no ceremony associated with distributing these items either. 


“If I were queen” I would administered the oath, and then present the certificates and pins as each new VISTA walks past.  I would offer a handshake and a short pause for a photo opp. 


This simple ceremony could be orchestrated easily and would not take much time. 


It would have made the event seem more like the commitment it is.


For most of the volunteers, this is the first time they have taken such an oath.  And such an event deserves some pomp and circumstance.


There are hurried goodbyes as people race off to the airport.  New fiends switch addresses and phone numbers.


The group quickly disperses, taking box lunches with them.


By 3 PM I am back home in Santa Fe, unpacking my things.


·         Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Classes, Discussion and Directions..

The day flies by in a flurry of classroom activities.  I do not see the light of day.  I feel caught in a time warp. 


The people at my table are witty and quick to make quips or sing a few bars of songs.  We doodle on our course materials; we debate and chatter, and share ideas.  We learn and we laugh.


·         Tuesday, 6 November 2007

The day is filled with classes.  I have taught the same material at various times in my career.  And as a former trainer myself, I enjoy observing them in action.  The three trainers are dynamic and capable.  They seem to enjoy their work.


Later in the day I take the shuttle bus across town to dine with my mother-in-law.  It is a coincidence that we are both in town at the same time. 


After dinner and conversation, we stroll in the park across from her downtown hotel.  There is a unique monument that commemorates victims of atrocities – it includes references to Babi Yar and Odessa. 


How is it there is a memorial to these events in this place so far from where the incidents took place?  I do not know. 


I flash back to discovering a beautiful monument to the 9/11 incidents which took place in the USA.  The memorial is in a busy square in central Kiev, Ukraine.


We are not as isolated as we think.


·         Monday, 5 November 2007

I am Orienting…

The orientation for Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) begins today.  I drive down to Albuquerque with my new coworker in the passenger seat.  She is almost 30 years older than I and has also served in Peace Corps.  We are probably not the typical VISTA candidates.


We arrive at the hotel and discover there are 70 trainees from all over the Southwestern USA, all eager to begin the orientation to AmeriCorps/VISTA.


We go through the in-processing line and turn in all the forms that allow the Human Resources people to keep their jobs.  Even with computers and Internet, many organizations still want hard copies of forms.


The old paper file is still used as a back-up for all the electronic files.  Somehow the processes are not really streamlined; and, in many cases, they are doubled.  I do not mean to be curmudgeonly nor am I anti-technology.  I just wish organizations could look harder at their processes.


As we stand in line I observe my fellow trainees.  We are a diverse group.  I hear voices with accents from places like Arkansas and Oklahoma.  I see faces that are black and brown and red.  No one looks apprehensive.  There is lots of laughter and bantering.


Later, I find my room and settle in.  I have no roommate.  This is a pleasant surprise since almost everyone else does.  I am grateful to have a private space.  After a long day of intense interactions with engaging people and challenging material, I am often happy to be alone.


·         Friday, 2 November 2007

Flowers for Breakfast…

My cowboy wandered in from the yard with a handful of purple asters, thoughtfully placed them in a cunning little blue vase, and planted them next to my computer and the ever present cup of usually cooling coffee.


He and Princess Zia have been out in the run playing with the ever-so-enticing yellow tennis balls that delight the dog so much.


There is nothing like tossing a ball for an appreciative dog to remind you what joy is like. 


Except, of course, having a husband who brings you flowers for breakfast.


Day Two of NaNoWriMo!

All across the USA, the annual 50K word marathon is underway! 


Yesterday I logged about 2,000 words and had a fine time just letting my fingers fly.


I set my little blue timer (one of my best investments ever!) for an hour and just started tapping away. 


No editing allowed (my rule) and I try to keep ahead of my busy brain so the characters are themselves and not me. 


I like to imagine all my fellow NaNoWriMo compatriots around the world indulging in this crazy discipline.


·         Thursday, 1 November 2007 – Thanksgiving Month!

Becoming Leader of the Pack…

Walking a dog involves a certain mindset: the ability to project calm and strength.  This is especially true when walking a dog new to the family.


The dog and the dog-walker can lean a lot about life from their new relationship.


The “trick” is to show leadership.  The dog must trust the leader.  This means the dog must put aside apprehensions or urges and respect the leader to determine how to handle situations. 


This takes strength of character, both for the dog and for the human.  Trust, faith, and the related feeling of respect, are never to grant.


Our morning walks here are sometimes challenging.  Miss Zia and I cannot avoid the fenced guard dogs who do their jobs with vigilance.  These dogs rush the fence as we walk by.  They snarl, snap, lunge and flex their muscles.


It can be intimidating.  It can be challenging.


My role is to project calm leadership and confidence and to expect my own dog to reflect that calm and confidence too.


When the dog trusts me, she is free from fear and can act, rather than react.


The dog’s instinct in this situation is to bark back, to attack, or to simply leave, dragging the dog-walker off to safety.


If the dog-walker assumes the role of pack leader, the leashed dog will learn to trust the dog-walker instead of following its own instinct.  This is powerful.


So, Miss Zia and I are learning to walk past as if we are royalty.  I am the confident Queen and Zia the royal Princess.  We do not acknowledge the peasants and their yammering.  We project our right to be here.  We command respect. 


Well, not always, but we are working on it.


The Metaphor…

How often, like puppies, we humans are.  We pull at the figurative leash.  As we go through life, we bark, bluff, bully, lunge and otherwise try to be the leader instead of trusting God to guard, guide and govern.


If we are calm and confident and turn to God, he will protect us.  We can trust the Leader of the Pack.  We can listen to Father/Mother-God rather than our own limited mortal instincts. 


When we do, we are free to express joy and freedom and gratitude.


No, I am not saying humans are like God to their animal friends.  I am saying that we can learn from our animal friends and see the rewards that come from trust and faith; from putting aside our limited mortal impressions of life, and turning to God to see the spiritual reality. 


That is life changing.






FYI: If you want to read about our

Peace Corps Ukraine adventures,

start with January 2005 - May 2007.


Now we are in AmeriCorps/VISTA adventures

Right here in Santa Fe, in the USA!

Life is good!







FYI: If you want to read about our

Peace Corps Ukraine adventures,

start with January 2005 - May 2007.


Now we are in AmeriCorps/VISTA adventures

Right here in Santa Fe, in the USA!

Life is good!